As the saying goes, it’s the little things that count. This is so true for nature, but we’re quick to forget about them. The all signing, all dancing nature programmes that hit our screens excite us about the big things and the far-flung places. Of course, the footage and the story lines are brilliant and inspiring but they aren’t a realistic destination for most of us and certainly won’t be on the family holiday list. So, children don’t get to connect to these places and species in real life. Real life connections are the ones that stick, no matter how little. The little things give you a chance to connect much more often and these chances will stay with you throughout adult life. Just last summer I found an elephant hawkmoth caterpillar by chance. I was so surprised and elated by this creature it was just like being a child again.
Some of my most cherished memories of nature and childhood are the tiniest. My bird feeders had me hooked from the moment I was given my first bird watching book. Chaffinch, dunnock and robin were the regular birds, the normal birds so to speak but because they were there right by the window everyday the connection was real and it lasted. My godparents garden was full of cabbages and therefore full of caterpillars. I didn’t know the species, I had a vague idea that they’d become a white butterfly, only because I’d seen white butterflies in the garden. But, I became a caterpillar rescuer, saving them from some sort of doom, imagined or otherwise. I collected lots, and installed them in new homes – butter tubs! My Grandma and I would visit Rothbury, in rural Northumberland. We’d spend hours down by the River Coquet fishing for ‘tiddlers’ as she called them. We’d get wet feet and a little muddy but we’d head back proudly carrying glass jars full of small fish, usually to be released later in the week.
These are the things that really mattered and developed a real love of nature as a whole, not just the big things or exotic things, but everything from earthworms up. They still matter now and I still gain a huge amount of joy and happiness from the smaller things.
Yesterday, we took a walk to a spot we know is good for adders and lizards. These are the slightly bigger things and are still a huge excitement. We weren’t successful in looking for them but we still found some brilliant little things. An old fishing hut, now strewn around as corrugated tin sheets has become a home for wildlife. First we found a short-tailed vole, then a toad, then another vole. These are the little things, the fairly regular things but a connection to these animals may last a life time.
The voles paused under the lifted sheets, deciding if we were a threat, where to go and what to do. We watched as they squeezed through their little grassy tunnels – an insight into their tiny world. The toad sat still, as if totally unaware of us, his fascinating rectangular pupils unblinking. How old was this toad? They’ve been known to live till the age of 16. Did he have years of experience under his rotund belt? The last moment of little things yesterday was the realisation that we were surrounded by ant mounds. They stood unobtrusively around the hillside but the more we looked the more we saw. What a revelation – think of the biomass of insects in that little area!
We need to encourage these big connections to the little things in our younger generations. Children are held back and restricted so often, regulations tell us what we can’t or shouldn’t do (rightly so in some instances), but we need to release the child when we can. Let them pick up frogs and toads and feel the squirm in their hands. Let them dig for earthworms with their bare hands and wash them later. Let them get wet and muddy, slip on seaweed and tumble into a rock pool, pick up a crab and stroke an anemone. These are the things they’ll remember for life. The little things have the biggest impact.